Home > Uncategorized > We Face an Authoritarian Threat – posted 6/17/2020 and published in the Concord Monitor on 7/5/2020

We Face an Authoritarian Threat – posted 6/17/2020 and published in the Concord Monitor on 7/5/2020

Over four years ago, I wrote an article about whether Donald Trump was a fascist. We now have more historical experience to consider that proposition. My last time out, I mostly raised the question and weighed the evidence without coming to a definitive conclusion.

I think the question itself is problematic. Fascism as exemplified in the Hitler and Mussolini incarnations was a one party state. No opposition was tolerated. Those fascists employed systematic violence to crush and eliminate all opponents.

What we are dealing with now does not fit that old model. At the same time, it can hardly be called normal and mainstream politicians, liberal and conservative, need to stop pretending it is.

Fascism can evolve and take different forms in different historical periods. Trump and other kleptocratic world leaders like Putin, Bolsanaro, Orban, Duterte and Erdogan reflect a new model of fascism and authoritarianism.

In this model, a degree of political opposition is allowed. The semblance of democracy remains and the machinery of elections persist. Other countries like Russia, Hungary and Turkey are further down the road of overpowering and repressing opposition.

In our country, the possibility of reversal is real. Trump can be beaten electorally and both Houses of Congress could swing Democratic. Authoritarian transformation is not a fait accompli.

Still, democracy is increasingly fragile as Big Money remains the dominant force and voter suppression becomes a calculated, employed strategy. Checks and balances have largely failed to restrain this President. He ignores Congress and stonewalls all demands and subpoenas.

Trump promotes a cult of personality to inspire adulation and unquestioning loyalty. He surrounds himself with yes-men and sycophants. His megalomania feeds off the fawning subservience of his base. Trump appears to need his rallies like a drug. He is even willing to risk the health of his own supporters in Tulsa out of some uncaring political calculation.

The historian, Ruth Ben-Ghiat has said that Trump is emotionally training his base to be cruel and violent. Fascists dehumanize people they don’t like and any sense of compassion dies for groups deemed “out”. This, after all, is the Administration that puts children in cages.

For Trump, it is not enough to disagree with opponents. He has repeatedly railed that Hillary Clinton belongs in jail. Trump has also demanded that both Obama and Biden get jail time. He has recommended 50 year sentences for their involvement in the Michael Flynn case.

This is not the behavior of a normal politician. Whatever you might have thought of the Bushs, Bill Clinton, or Obama, they never advocated jail time for their rivals. Trump’s “lock her up” chants are a sick departure from any democratic norms.

Calling independent media “the enemy of the people” reflects fascist values. Fascists cannot allow critical and free thinking. Look at Trump’s response to books like Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, John Bolton’s book or his niece, Mary Trump’s new book. He consistently threatens or sues to stop publication.

Since the Floyd protests began, Trump has blamed journalists for fomenting unrest. He regularly calls journalists “very bad people” and incites his base against them. According to the Nieman Foundation for Journalism, police nationally have arrested or attacked journalists more than 110 times since May 28. How much Trump’s attacks on the press have encouraged police attacks on journalists is an open question. Trump has unquestionably made journalism a much more dangerous career.

Threatening to invoke the Insurrection Act and raising the possibility of using the military against peaceful protesters as Trump did is crossing a dangerous line. Protesters are not terrorists who must be dominated. Negative characterizations of protesters could easily lead to interference with protected First Amendment rights.

Trump will try and use the Floyd protests as a way to advance his Executive power. While part of Trump’s agenda has been the appointment of conservative judges, it has also been about the creation of an imperial presidency, beyond judicial control. Witness his firing Inspector Generals who were supposed to hold him accountable. He has now fired five Inspector Generals. Probably no earlier president could have gotten away with even firing one.

Scapegoating Antifa also fits the fascist playbook. Trump has now placed Antifa at the top of his hate list along with immigrants and Muslims. He has threatened to designate Antifa as a terrorist organization although he lacks that legal power. Yet, Antifa is not even an organization and unlike his white supremacist allies it is responsible for no deaths.

It is ironic that, like Nixon, Trump claims the mantle of “law and order” president even though he is awash in corruption. In violation of the emoluments clause, Trump has used his presidency for private gain. Unlike previous presidents, he never divested from his private businesses. Foreign governments, congressmen and private businesses curry favor by staying at Trump hotels.

Trump’s record of fraud and deceit is long-standing and well-documented. Trump University, cheating on taxes, nepotism with Ivanka, Jared and Don Jr. and the over 20 women who have complained about sexual harassment come immediately to mind and that is barely scratching the surface. No one will ever accuse Trump of being an ethical individual.

The Washington Post says that Trump has made over 19,000 false or misleading claims during his time in office including crazy lies like the claim coronavirus will magically disappear or the claim Joe Scarborough committed murder. Trump uses his loose-cannon tweeting as a way to connect to his base and to attack his enemies. This is a weapon earlier 20th century fascists never had.

There is a history in America of trivializing the danger of fascism . That occurred back in the 1930’s. Many wrongly assumed Hitler would be controlled by conservatives and others mistakenly felt he would pivot and take a more moderate course. Neither happened. Denial and the idea that it cannot happen here remain a powerful force.

An authoritarian future is not a done deal. As a nation with a powerful tradition of democracy, Americans can reverse course. We have the unique and rare opportunity to vote out an authoritarian government. The power remains with the people – let’s use it.

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